YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — It had to be a strange sight early Tuesday for the family of deer cavorting through Calvary Cemetery.

Usually, they’re putting something in the ground. Tuesday, they were trying to dig something up; the body of a John Doe buried in 1982 so that investigators could obtain a DNA sample.

The deer — a fawn and two does — watched from a safe distance for a few minutes as cemetery workers, members of the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office and Homicide Task Force, investigators from the county Coroner’s Office, and staff and students from the Anthropology Department at Youngstown State University converged on Grave 8011, before scampering away.

The man was killed just before midnight Aug. 12, 1982, as he was walking west on Western Reserve Road, just west of state Route 7. He was run over by a car traveling in the same direction, but he has never been able to be identified.

Sheriff’s investigator James Ciotti reopened the case last May and managed to get a tip through the national missing person database, NAMUS, that the body may be a 31-year-old man from Texas.

To confirm it, Ciotti needs a DNA sample, and because investigators at the time did not take DNA — it was not even thought of then — nor save any other evidence, he needed to exhume the man’s body to get a sample.

He credited cemetery staff and the Diocese of Youngstown for their cooperation as he stood around while workers first dug a hole with an excavator. The plan was to use the machine as much as possible until they got too close to the body.

The body was buried by Fox Funeral Home and the diocese as a charity burial. There was no vault-like casket, but a pine box was used instead. The body was wrapped in a sheet that was zipped into a body bag before it was put into the box and buried. Workers wanted to make sure the blade of the excavator did not do any damage to the box, so after about 45 minutes of digging, they got close enough to do the rest of the digging by hand.

The workers chipped away with shovels before Dr. Loren Lease and Dr. Matt O’Mansky, both of YSU, lowered themselves into the grave. Using hand tools, they scraped away dirt and pieces of the original box, putting the dirt and debris in buckets which were emptied until they came across a body bag.

The zipper in the bag was broken, but because it had been in the ground for so long, they were able to rip pieces of the bag off before they came to a sheet underneath. After some cutting with a box cutter, they were able to reach the skeleton.

“You need two hands,” Lease said to coroner’s investigator Octavious Jones Jr., who reached out to grab the skull. “It’s fragile.”

The skeletal remains will be sent to the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation lab in Richfield to be tested for DNA. Ciotti said it should take between three and six weeks to know the results.

The grave was then filled in. What will happen to the pieces that were taken for analysis will depend on if the DNA from the grave matches the sample investigators have.

Lease and coroner’s investigators said they were pleasantly surprised at the condition of the skeleton, which they said is in good shape.

Ciotti also said he was surprised, especially because it’s in a low-lying area that is susceptible to water and also because they were in a wooden box and not a casket.

One of the things hampering the investigation is that the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which took over the investigation from Boardman police, purged their records seven years after the man was killed and Ciotti was left with almost nothing.

The coroner’s report of the man’s death said the man collided with a vehicle driven by an 18-year-old Canfield woman and the force of the impact threw him 54 feet away from where he was hit.

Newspaper accounts at the time speculated the man was at least 35 years old. A coroner’s report lists the cause of death as “shock and hemorrhage” from “multiple extremity fractures and possible internal injuries.” Tests showed the man had no drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of his death.

The woman told investigators she heard a thud as a car passed her in the opposite direction. She pulled off the road into a 1255 Western Reserve Road parking lot at the Youngstown Racquet Club and told a friend that was following her she thought she hit something, the coroner’s report said.

The two returned to the area but found nothing, and neither did a Boardman police officer who was called. The woman and her friend then left and the police officer, who was joined by two of his colleagues, kept searching. The officer found the body in a ditch, the coroner’s report said.

The report said when the woman heard of a hit-skip accident in the area the next day, she contacted an attorney, and they drove to the Canfield Post of the state patrol for an interview.

It is not clear if she was ever charged. The Vindicator said prosecutors were mulling over a decision on whether to file charges, but no other information could be found.

This story is part of a series of cold cases that WKBN is examining.

Do you have a cold case that you’d like us to look into further? Submit a cold case to WKBN.

The newspaper said samples of hair, blood and clothing were taken to the state patrol lab in Columbus. The coroner’s report said they were checking the man’s fingerprints, but those results were pending.

Ciotti said a niece of the man who they think might have been in the grave is still alive and the man’s mother gave a DNA sample to investigators before she died.